Browse 400,000 Aerial Images Of London And Beyond

By M@ Last edited 14 months ago
Browse 400,000 Aerial Images Of London And Beyond
St Paul's and the surrounding bombed-out area in 1948

Historic England has opened free access to its vast archive of aerial images — and now the sky's the limit.

What's the aerial version of disappearing down a rabbit hole? Because that's the metaphor we're grasping for after having a play with this new motherlode of aerial images.

Historic England looks after some four million photographs of Britain from above, 400,000 of which are now freely browsable online. The collection covers large swathes of the country; there's a focus on archaeologically interesting sites, but much more besides.

A view of Greenwich from above, showing a patchwork pattern in the park grass
A 2006 image of Greenwich and the Isle of Dogs. A dry spell has revealed the footprint of allotment patches in the park, dating from the second world war

The map-based interface makes it extremely easy to explore the places you're interested in. See if your home or workplace is on there, and how they've changed over time.

London is particularly well-covered — in fact, it's comprehensively covered. Judging by the map, every square centimetre is visible on at least one photo. In the view below, purple stars show older images, red spots indicate more recent photos and the brown lines show the coverage area of individual photographs.

A map of central London covered in pink and red pins
The central London area contains thousands of images. This image is to indicate just how populated the map is... zooming in further gives a nice clean interface at the local level.

The oldest image in the archive is also of (what is now) London. It's a 1919 shot of Hendon taken by the Aerofilms company who contributed so many images to this resource. If you've ever visited the RAF Museum, this is what it looked like a hundred years ago.

It's one of those sites that, once you get playing, you'll disappear into for hours. Of course, it's not the only aerial archive available. The Britain From Above website contains over a million photos, some of which are repeated here. But the user-friendly interface and mix of both old and recent photos make HE's aerial explorer an utter joy. Have a play here.

Last Updated 27 April 2022